[Editor’s note: The author has no direct affiliation with the police, the particular victim, or the alleged murderers/attempted robbers.]
The pain of loss is unbearable. A life lost too soon, at a seemingly promising point of life, feels all the more tragic. Nevertheless, matters in a recent high-profile crime are about to become even more tragic, but not the way you’d think. Sometimes, bold action and bold words need to be taken or said because no one else is willing, and that’s what this author is going to attempt. Scranton PD’s officer John James Wilding died performing his job. In the line of duty. Honorably. A hazard that, sadly, is part of the job.
However, Officer Wilding’s fall caused his death, not the three young men attempting an armed robbery. It was the pursuit of justice which led to his untimely passing, but would ending three young lives bring the justice Officer Wilding was seeking?
Murder in the second degree is the tacked-on offense the three attempted armed robbers are being charged with, but does that sound like an instance of the punishment fitting the crime. Second degree murder is typically defined as follows (courtesy criminal.findlaw.com):
“1) an intentional killing that is not premeditated or planned, nor committed in a reasonable ‘heat of passion‘; or 2) a killing caused by dangerous conduct and the offender’s obvious lack of concern for human life. Second-degree murder may best be viewed as the middle ground between first-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter.”
Though that is the definition, there are also a list of potential justifications for a charge of second degree murder: Impulsive Killings with Malice Aforethought, Killings after an Act Intended to Cause Serious Bodily Harm, Killings Resulting from a Depraved Indifference to Human Life. All of these charges, though fairly different and broad for one statute, imply that a weapon was used to cause death. The following mock scenario represents the sort of reasoning most likely being employed to justify the escalated charges against the three 17-year-olds (courtesy criminal.findlaw.com):
“Going back to Adam and Bill, imagine that, instead of hitting Bill over the head with the tire iron, Adam grabbed his gun and fired in anger into a crowd of onlookers. Adam didn’t necessarily mean to kill anyone, but also didn’t give any thought to the harm that his actions could cause in the crowd. This demonstrates Adam’s depraved indifference to human life. If one of Adam’s bullets struck and killed anyone in the crowd . . .”
The three suspects were armed, and they chose not to employ them. What occurred was evidently still an attempted armed robbery, but an additional allegation of murder one, two, or three? Sadly, the truth of the matter is that it’s a straightforward combination of two elements: Emotion + Blue line/police officer = murder.
They might not get that conviction, but it is a symptom of the corrupt society we live in. We live in a society that sees itself has “highly evolved” and affluent because we have advanced beyond electroshock and lobotomy treatments for the mentally challenged or . . . we see district attorneys use murder trials that have yet to come close to verdict as a reelection tool. Politicize and campaign on conviction rates or how many individuals have been incarcerated. Celebrated English jurist Williams Blackstone’s adage of “better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer” has evidently been inverted. Courts sell our children’s future down the river for the almighty dollar.
Oh, how moral we must be when the “land of the free” can claim the highest incarceration rate in the world. Despite high levels of recidivism, that standing blamed on bad guys being simply rotten to the core. It’s a comfortably acceptable truth to the unpalatable reality that your occupation, position, or means determine whether you’re too vile to be allowed back into polite society when you’ve done something wrong — having presumably “paid your debt” to said society.
It’s not racial, but it is certainly immoral. In the quest to right wrongs, to seek justice for the victims, we must see through the fog of pain, loss, and emotion. Grief and loss may sting, but they are not tools for judgment.
By all accounts, in a war of appearance, you would discount the suspects as thugs and hooligans juxtaposed with a well-like and seemingly competent police officer. The court of public opinion is certainly not on their side. The problem (though attributed to sheer racism by some) is indicative of a slow, creeping desire to increasingly elevate the honor of putting one’s life on the line to “protect and serve” standing in tension with a moral imperative to punish both alleged and confirmed criminals. Police officers in general are given carte blanche to do whatever is necessary to apprehend suspected criminals. It would seem that this up to the point that the lives of the alleged and unconfirmed, or the purely misdemeanor criminals are lost in the process. Where many see a growing anti-police sentiment, others see a growing anti-citizen sentiment on the part of the boys in blue. It is a condemnation and generalization of every crime, a lack of desire to see the punishment fit the crime, free from the cloud of emotion.
A citizen’s right to being deemed innocent until proven guilty is too often forfeited on account of the attire and position of the person. The right to a fair trial, being deemed innocent until proven guilty, and the sanctity of life are not subjective because of one’s appearance, race, or occupation. The punishment ought to fit the crime — no matter the victim or act committed by the suspect. Justice ought to be blind for many reasons, as we all strive to witness equal outcome of the laws applied to the convicted.
If words truly mean anything, then the “department of corrections” means just that: correction. If we are truly a “nation of laws,” then they need to be applied applied to all citizens, whether merely suspect or truly ultimately found guilty. Too many lives are unfairly ended otherwise. To be clear, mine is not a request for acquittal of those three youths, but a plea for sanity in an insane situation. Sanity in an insane world.